Six Nations 2015: Scotland vs Ireland Preview

Everything you need to know as Ireland look to keep their title hopes alive and Scotland look to avoid a whitewash

By Gareth Llewellyn
stuarthogg500
Scotland's hopes of victory could rest with full-back Stuart Hogg Photo: Jason O'Callaghan

Kick-off and TV/Radio coverage

Saturday 21 March 2015, BT Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh. Kick-off 14:30 GMT. Live TV coverage on BBC1 across the UK, RTÉ2 in Ireland. Live radio coverage on BBC 5 Live and RTÉ Radio 1.

Who’s the man with the whistle?

French referee Jérôme Garcès is in charge for this one, supported by his compatriot Pascal Gauzere and Argentina’s Federico Anselmi, who was running the line at the Millennium Stadium last week. England’s Graham Hughes is the man in the truck on TMO duties.

What’s the team news?

Scotland: Vern Cotter makes two changes to the pack with Glasgow Warriors loosehead prop Ryan Grant replacing Alasdair Dickinson, with his club team-mate Adam Ashe coming in at blindside for Rob Harley.

Grant has not started for Scotland since their 51-3 defeat to Wales in Cardiff 12 months ago, but has made two appearances in this year’s championship as back up to Edinburgh’s Dickinson.

Ashe, who missed the start of the championship with a neck problem, is also promoted from the bench following a cameo off the bench last week.

Edinburgh winger Tim Visser replaces back-row forward Johnnie Beattie on the bench as Cotter reverts to a traditional 5:3 split among the replacements.

Ireland: Joe Schmidt also keeps his changes to a minimum with one change up front and in the backline.

Leinster prop Cian Healy returns at loosehead prop after backing up Jack McGrath from the bench, while his club team-mate Luke Fitzgerald comes on to the left wing for Simon Zebo, who drops out of the 23.

What are the line-ups?

Scotland: Stuart Hogg (Glasgow Warriors); Dougie Fife (Edinburgh), Mark Bennett (Glasgow Warriors), Matt Scott (Edinburgh), Tommy Seymour (Glasgow Warriors); Finn Russell (Glasgow Warriors), Greig Laidlaw (Gloucester, captain); Ryan Grant (Glasgow Warriors), Ross Ford (Edinburgh), Euan Murray (Glasgow Warriors), Jim Hamilton (Saracens), Jonny Gray (Glasgow Warriors), Adam Ashe (Glasgow Warriors), Blair Cowan (London Irish), David Denton (Edinburgh).

Replacements: Fraser Brown (Glasgow Warriors), Alasdair Dickinson (Edinburgh), Geoff Cross (London Irish), Tim Swinson (Glasgow Warriors), Rob Harley (Glasgow Warriors), Sam Hidalgo-Clyne (Edinburgh), Greig Tonks (Edinburgh), Tim Visser (Edinburgh).

Ireland: Rob Kearney (Leinster); Tommy Bowe (Ulster), Jared Payne (Ulster), Robbie Henshaw (Connacht), Luke Fitzgerald (Leinster); Johnny Sexton (Racing Metro), Conor Murray (Munster); Cian Healy (Leinster), Rory Best (Ulster), Mike Ross (Leinster), Devin Toner (Leinster), Paul O’Connell (Munster, captain), Peter O’Mahony (Munster), Sean O’Brien (Leinster), Jamie Heaslip (Leinster).

Replacements: Sean Cronin (Leinster), Jack McGrath (Leinster), Martin Moore (Leinster), Iain Henderson (Ulster), Jordi Murphy (Leinster); Eoin Reddan (Leinster), Ian Madigan (Leinster), Felix Jones (Munster).

Who are the players to watch this week?

Scotland: Wales caused Scotland plenty of problems with their tactical kicking and Ireland will look to give them a healthy dose of that on Saturday. Glasgow Warriors full-back Stuart Hogg will need to be on top of his game chasing high balls and putting in a solid shift defensively, an area that doesn’t grab the headlines as much as his line breaks. There is no doubting his attacking prowess, however, making the most metres with ball in hand so far this year and beating 14 defenders in the process. If anyone can unlock the Irish defence, it is Hogg who is likely to lead that charge.

Ireland: For all of their possession and territory, Wales dismantled Ireland’s tactical kicking and lineout last week, with the success of the latter down to just 67 per cent. Much is made about the settled partnerships in the backline and the back row, but if Ireland are to get through the hype and emotion of Super Saturday, they need all of the leadership and tactical nous of captain Paul O’Connell. The 35-year-old would have been disappointed at the green machine’s failure, and it is an area they can expect to be tested again against Scotland. Few lead by example more than the Munster lock and if the rest of the team can follow his example and put together a monster 80 minutes, Ireland will still be in title contention when England and France kick off at Twickenham at 17:00.

What do the teams make of this match?

Scotland head coach, Vern Cotter: “There is a strong culture in this group. Players want to do well and set the standards high.

“We’ve played with a huge amount of spirit and courage, are putting teams under pressure and are scoring tries, which is encouraging, but we want to go one better this Saturday against Ireland, last year’s champions.

“Both ourselves and Ireland are hugely motivated for this game.

“Make no mistake, they are coming to Edinburgh believing they can win the title, while we will be going out there desperate to throw everything at our last championship match to win the game and repay the support of our fans.”

Ireland head coach, Joe Schmidt: “Scotland have named a particularly good side; a really balanced side, and I think there’s a bit of desperation from both teams, which will make for a really combative test match.

“Scotland are incredibly hard to score against, because even from linebreaks they tend to scramble well and stay competitive.

“With the job that we’ve got in front of us, it would be difficult to get any further ahead than trying to just play that game. We’ll be keeping an eye on the game before us and the game after us.

“The two colours are definitely green and blue for this match for [Vern Cotter] and myself. I owe a fair bit to him and learnt a fair bit from coaching with him.

“I know he knows me very, very well and I’ve no doubt that he’s got a few things cooked up that will make life difficult for us. He’s got players who are very capable of doing that.”

What happened last time they met?

Ireland won 28-6 at the Aviva Stadium with tries from Rob Kearney, Andrew Trimble and Jamie Heaslip, with Johnny Sexton kicking 13 points off the tee. Scotland had just two penalties from Greig Laidlaw to show for their trip to Dublin.

How did they get on last time out?

Scotland: Scotland enjoyed a 13-10 half-time lead over England at Twickenham last Saturday, but ultimately lost their fourth match in four this year with a 25-13 defeat. The scoreline could have been worse had England not butchered a number of chances.

Ireland: In what has quickly been dubbed the greatest match of this year’s Six Nations, Ireland’s Grand Slam dreams were snuffed out by a resilient Welsh display in Cardiff. Ireland dominated territory and possession, but had only a penalty try and 11 points from Johnny Sexton for their efforts as 15 points off the tee from Leigh Halfpenny, a Dan Biggar drop-goal, and Scott Williams’ late try made the difference in a 23-16 defeat.

What do the bookies make of the match?

Given their respective fortunes, Ireland go into this one as clear favourites.

Our man Paddy Power is offering Scotland at 3/1, Ireland at 1/4, the draw at 22/1.

Odds stated are correct at time of publication and subject to change.

Prediction

With the title on the line, and Ireland looking to bounce back after defeat to Wales last week, it is difficult to see a determined Joe Schmidt side not coming away with a win in Edinburgh. Scotland will have nothing to lose, and have suffered four relatively narrow defeats, but it will take a herculean effort to avoid defeat. They have yet to put together an 80-minute performance. Ireland to win by a score.

Anything I may have missed?

Glasgow Warriors tighthead prop Euan Murray becomes Scotland’s most-capped prop with 66, surpassing Allan Jacobsen.

His Warriors team-mate Stuart Hogg has made 369 in the tournament with ball in hand – 91 metres more than his nearest challenger, as well as beating 14 defenders on his way.

Warriors lock Jonny Gray has made 65 tackles in the first four rounds, missing just one.

Despite all of the derision about their style of rugby, Ireland have thrown 718 passes so far – 162 more than league leaders England – and are the top ball carriers with 574.

Ireland scrum-half Conor Murray has accounted for 377 (52.5 per cent) of Ireland’s passes.

Centre Robbie Henshaw has beaten 14 defenders in attack, but his defence leaves a bit to be desired with 11 missed tackles from the opening four rounds.

Scotland are on their worst run at home in the competition, losing their last five matches at BT Murrayfield.

Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes were ended in Cardiff last week, but they have not lost back-to-back Six Nations away matches in the same season since 2008, and the last four meetings between the two countries has seen the home side win on the day.

But Ireland have not won at BT Murrayfield since 2011.

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